Tuesday, May 05, 2015

SFIFF58: A German Youth

On Saturday I attended the late night screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival of A German Youth, a documentary about the "first generation" of the Baader Meinhof Gang. The film is rigorously constructed using only archival footage from the period, from the 1960s through the death of Ulrike Meinhof in 1976. We see protest footage, news programs & TV debate shows, & the movie does a good job showing the evolution of Ulrike Meinhof from a workers' rights advocate to a radical militant. We also see just how intense & exhausting she was.

In their early days, Baader Meinhof members resembled left-wing hipsters, & director Jean-Gabriel Périot includes their exuberantly silly, stick-it-to-the-man student films. The documentary startlingly ends with excerpts from a Fassbinder film, in which Fassbinder has a heated kitchen table argument with a woman who is apparently his mother. The film is in French & German & is very talky, & I found it wearying to keep up with the subtitles & the often abstract political debates.

Mr. Périot was in attendance & did a Q&A afterward. I was impressed that the theater was nearly full & that audience members had well-informed questions about the subject. We learned that Mr. Périot started this project 10 years ago & spent a lot of boring hours searching student archives & watching old TV footage to find clips for the movie. When asked what he wanted viewers to come away with, he averred that the film does not present a point of view but only asks questions. He revealed that he was inspired to make the documentary by that Fassbinder clip at the end, saying, "It was important to me because it was impossible to understand."

§ A German Youth (Une jeunesse Allemande)
Director: Jean-Gabriel Périot
2015, France/Germany/Switzerland, 92 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 25, 2015   2:00 p.m.   Pacific Film Archive Theater
May 2, 2015   9:30 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
May 5, 2015   6:00 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

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